Understanding Intergenerational Poverty

“I just don’t think anyone making the rules knows what we are going through.”

What It Is

 Sometimes referred to as the “Cycle of Poverty”, intergenerational poverty (IGP) is described as poverty that persists from one generation to the next.

Intergenerational poverty disproportionately impacts minority and poor communities. They face system-wide barriers that often trap families in poverty for multiple generations.

Who It Impacts

Why It Matters

Too many in poverty are trapped by a system built to address situational poverty (ie. simple job creation), not meant to address the systems contributing to their situation. While we have a well-intentioned system, often times it harms the people we would like to be helping.

The Study

This research is based on the assumption that deeper insights into how families understand and perceive their situation (challenges, barriers, motivations, values, etc.) will guide development of more effective solutions and policies.

The data was gathered using a mixed-methods study. Information on personal experiences was obtained from a 90-minute survey with a select group in Georgia and Utah, while a large-scale nationwide survey provided a majority of the raw data.

The nationwide survey contained those who have and have not experienced intergenerational poverty.


What We Learned

in 10

Would Not Describe

Their Situation As Bad.

There Is No Problem

A large majority of parents and teens did not see themselves in a bad situation. As a matter of fact, a majority described themselves on a “strong footing”.

What this means

We cannot simply march in with “solutions” and expect there to be excitement over it. We must react empathetically and ask questions that will address the issues as those in poverty see them, not as we define them. 



A Lonely Experience

Due to the stress of their situation most respondents prefer to be alone. Consequently many in poverty are never exposed to an expanded worldview or understanding of opportunities outside of their own community.

What this means

Poverty is a lonely place and one where a person can be trapped and not recognize it because they have not experienced “hope”. One important opportunity we have is to highlight new dreams and opportunities.


Prefer To Be Alone Or With Family

Scarcity Mentality

Being poor takes a huge amount of mental energy, making those in poverty more likely to make mistakes and bad decisions. All people are less efficient when they lack something, whether that is time or money. We see in those we serve – and research shows – that they display often self-defeating behaviors that are caused by a lack of bandwidth and inability to think clearly. 

Tamra Ryan, Women’s Bean Project


The definition of “self-sufficiency” is different to this population with nearly half believing you can receive government aid and be self-sufficient at the same time.

What this means

The goal cannot be to “get someone off welfare” but rather to move them to a different place, a better place. We must address what we want for those trapped in poverty and not what we want from them. Then we must celebrate each success along that path.


Nearly Half Do Not Have A Negative View of Government Assistance



Creating Influence With Coaching

Outside mentors are a powerful way to break the culture of dependence. Parents and teens facing IGP see the value in mentorship and these mentors most often come from sports programs or school.

What this means

Working with community groups that have built-in trust is important to transformative success. These influencers have the unique opportunity to come alongside those facing chronic poverty issues.

Besides Family

Mentors & Friends

Have The Most Influence In Their Lives

Tamra Ryan who works with chronically unemployed women in Denver through The Women’s Bean Project had this to say:

“I work with the women to identify her goals, then discuss her ideas about how she might accomplish them, offering suggestions for how I might help her, all while doing reflective listening (‘it sounds like what you are saying is…’ ‘I wonder if, based on what you have said, this might make sense…’), I am much more likely to get the women enlisted in her own success” – Tamra Ryan

Inspiration Over Motivation

Spend time reinforcing the outcomes and hopes that the individual desires. By acknowledging their dreams, you can help to connect the solution to the desire.

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